When Elie Wiesel taught the world about camps he was not speaking about day camps or sleepaway camps. He was not thinking about those of us who live in self imposed ghettos either. In two generations we need the nightmarish tales of masters like Mr. Wiesel, z’l, to teach us of the horrors of his kinds of camps and ghettos. But how lucky we are!
Our kids today pack up their dozens of sets of underwear, multiple bathing suits, sunscreen to avoid harsh rays, conditioner to avoid errant hair, and what feels like tons of other stuff that is mandatory and very heavy. Much of it doesn’t make it back home at summer’s end.
Elie’s campers packed up some stuff as well. But while their stuff didn’t make it back, neither did most of the campers. We know the stories only too well and in tribute to those lost, and to the great Elie Wiesel, we are commanded to remember.
I know that one of the best ways to remember is to send our kids of today to Jewish camps. Yes, the kind where they lose many assorted items of clothing but the kids return proudly Jewish. Camps are powerful places which can transmit Jewish values through Jewish experiences. It’s called informal education and the results can be profound. Possibly even more persuasive than day schools although I’m a fan of them as well. Why not do it all? But never think of informal education as of less value than formal. A kid who has fun is going to remember his experiences quite well, thank you.
The best prescription for building Jews, according to every expert I’ve ever read, an obligation we have to replace all those millions lost in those camps and ghettos, is to live Jewishly.
In Israel, Jewish living is intrinsic. Your kids will be Jewish even if it’s not so relevant to you. But in America, places to live Jewishly are in communities like Newark’s Weequahic was, and West Orange New Jersey’s Pleasantdale is. I live in West Orange and it’s an incredible place. When we go to shul on Shabbat we see Jews of every species crisscrossing each other as they dash off to the synagogue of their choice. Conservative. Orthodox. Somewhat egalitarian Orthodox. Chabad. Women in tallitot. Women with shaitels. Kids growing up here are also living intrinsically Jewish lives. While not exactly a ghetto in the negative sense, it’s most definitely, in the positive, a Jewish community. Not merely a community that has Jews.
And we all get along. The bearded Chasid will greet me, the unhatted Conservative, with a shabbat shalom. And I will respond in kind.
Many in West Orange make aliyah to Israel. It’s pretty much a common thing. Families. Young singles. Even people our age, retirees. It’s what happens when you live in a community like this. Often it’s when we make aliyah rather then if.
I don’t know if Elie Wiesel was ever a visitor to West Orange. I know he would have felt at home here. There is no one, except for the very young, in our community who is not mourning him. There is no one in our community who did not respect and learn from him. His influence will live on and may he rest in peace.